Dec 29, 2017
by Kellen Watson, Daily Acts
It’s that time of year again….weed season. There are tender little weedy greens popping up all over my garden, and probably yours too. For most of us, these little bursts of life just look like one more entry on a nagging to-do list building up for spring….reorganize the attic, dust the baseboards, pull the weeds. However, there are two benefits to going after those weeds now. One is that you remove them before they go to seed so you don’t keep having the same problem year after year. The other is that they are at their tastiest and most tender! That’s right, we’re going to talk eating weeds. Many are delicious, and they’re a cinch to grow. 😉
If you have even a hint of a yard, you’ll probably be able to locate a number of edible plants at your doorstep. Be careful, though, to avoid gathering within 50 feet of a well-traveled road, or at any spot where airborne lead or other pollutants may be present. It’s also best to use caution when collecting in cultivated areas, unless you know the gardener or farmer maintains a strictly organic operation. Before eating any plant, be sure to check it out using its botanical name, in a good field guide. Common names are often used to refer to multiple plants, so don’t count on them.
Weeds are some of the most nutritious greens you can get. They are packed with vitamins and trace minerals, many of which are not as readily available in other foods.
Chickweed (Stellaria media) – You’ll pay a pretty penny to have this delicate little weed in your salad greens at nice restaurants. A very cute characteristic of chickweed is a line of fine hairs that will be present on only one side of the stem. You’ll see the line of hairs going up one side of the stem until it reaches a node (where the leaves branch off), then the line of hairs will switch to the opposite side of the stem. When broken, the chickweed stem does not exude any sap. The leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds of chickweed are all edible. It has a very inviting flavor, mild, crisp, and very green. It tastes like spring. Best eaten raw.
Plantain (Musa × paradisiaca) – Plantains are always cooked or fried when they are eaten green. They can be eaten raw, but are not as flavorful as dessert bananas, so are usually cooked. When mature, yellow plantains are fried, they tend to caramelize, turning a golden-brown color. They can also be boiled, baked, microwaved or grilled over charcoal, either peeled or unpeeled. These fruits are year round, making them an all-season staple food.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinal) - Every part of a dandelion is edible, from root to flower. As a relative of chicory, dandelion root can be dried and roasted and used as a substitute for, or addition to, coffee. The root can also be peeled and cooked like a turnip. Young dandelion leaves are among the most nutritious you’ll find of any leafy green, and can be used in a salad, on a pizza, or in a pesto. Mature leaves can be sautéed or added to soups and stews. Ever tried dandelion chips? (You can make them like kale chips!) As for the flower, it can be tossed with a salad, steeped into tea, or turned into wine.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) – Native to India and Persia, purslane has now spread throughout the world both as an edible plant and a weed. Purslane has fleshy succulent leaves and stems with yellow flowers. The stems lay flat on the ground as they radiate from a single taproot sometimes forming large mats of leaves. You can eat fresh young plants, and especially young leaves and tender stem tips. The taste is similar to watercress or spinach. Purslane can also be cooked as a potherb, steamed, stir-fried or pureed.
Lamb’s Quarter (Chenopodium album) (see photo above) – This annual plant produces tiny green flowers that form in clusters along the main stem and branches. Leaves, shoots, seeds, and flowers are all edible. Lamb’s quarters contain some oxalic acid therefore when eating this raw, small quantities are recommended. Cooking removes this acid. Lamb’s Quarter can be eaten in salads or added to smoothies and juices. Steaming this edible weed is one method of cooking, or can be added to soups, sautés and much more. Drying this wild edible is one way to add this nutritious plant to your meals throughout the winter or you can blanch and freeze the leaves.
Mallow (Malva neglecta or Malva parviflora) - Mild, almost nonexistent flavor, but like tofu, it just takes on the flavor of everything else in your bowl. Exceptionally rich in vitamins A, B, and C, along with calcium, magnesium, and potassium. The tender young leaves actually have one of the highest amounts of vitamin A in any vegetable. The leaves can also be used to thicken soups and stews thanks to their less than pleasant sounding but oddly delicious mucilaginous quality, similar to okra.
One of the beautiful things about foraging for weeds and getting to know them is that you’ll find yourself actually seeing in a new way. You’ll begin to notice the details of leaves: their shapes, their smoothness or hairiness, whether they clasp the plant stalk closely or spring out on delicate stems, and if they occur singly or in compound leaves of several leaflets. When your eye passes over a weed on the sidewalk and — instead of simply registering a blob of green — reports a known plant in all of its intricacies, even the shortest stroll will suddenly become a delightful adventure. May your 2018 be an opportunity to see many ordinary things as the miracles they are, including weeds.
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